At this moment the bell, set in motion in the tower, boomed out. The chamber in which Durtal and Des Hermies were sitting trembled and a droning filled the air. It seemed that waves of sound came out of the walls, unrolling in a spiral from the very rock, and that one was transported, in a dream, into the inside of one of these shells which, when held up to the ear, simulate the roar of rolling billows. Des Hermies, accustomed to the mighty resonance of the bells at short range, thought only of the coffee, which he had put on the stove to keep hot.
Then the booming of the bell came more slowly. The humming departed from the air. The window panes, the glass of the bookcase, the tumblers on the table, ceased to rattle and gave off only a tenuous tinkling.
A step was heard on the stair. Carhaix entered, covered with snow.
“Cristi, boys, it blows!” He shook himself, threw his heavy outer garments on a chair, and extinguished his lantern. “There were blinding clouds of snow whirling in between the sounding-shutters. I can hardly see. Dog’s weather. The lady has gone to bed? Good. But you haven’t drunk your coffee?” he asked as he saw Durtal filling the glasses.
Carhaix went up to the stove and poked the fire, then dried his eyes, which the bitter cold had filled with tears, and drank a great draught of coffee.
“Now. That hits the spot. How far had you got with your lecture, Des Hermies?”
“I finished the rapid expose of Satanism, but I haven’t yet spoken of the genuine monster, the only real master that exists at the present time, that defrocked abbe—”
“Oh!” exclaimed Carhaix. “Take care. The mere name of that man brings disaster.”
“Bah! Canon Docre—to utter his ineffable name—can do nothing to us. I confess I cannot understand why he should inspire any terror. But never mind. I should like for Durtal, before we hunt up the canon, to see your friend Gevingey, who seems to be best and most intimately acquainted with him. A conversation with Gevingey would considerably amplify my contributions to the study of Satanism, especially as regards venefices and succubacy. Let’s see. Would you mind if we invited him here to dine?”
Carhaix scratched his head, then emptied the ashes of his pipe on his thumbnail.
“Well, you see, the fact is, we have had a slight disagreement.”
“Oh, nothing very serious. I interrupted his experiments here one day. But pour yourself some liqueur, Monsieur Durtal, and you, Des Hermies, why, you aren’t drinking at all,” and while, lighting their cigarettes, both sipped a few drops of almost proof cognac, Carhaix resumed, “Gevingey, who, though an astrologer, is a good Christian and an honest man—whom, indeed, I should be glad to see again—wished to consult my bells.
“That surprises you, but it’s so. Bells formerly played quite an important part in the forbidden science. The art of predicting the future with their sounds is one of the least known and most disused branches of the occult. Gevingey had dug up some documents, and wished to verify them in the tower.”